I am by no means an expert at this. Getting published, I mean. I've only been writing for about a year professionally, but, full disclosure, I wrote fan-fiction for the various games I played for 19 years. But since June of 2014, I have set my nose to the grindstone and been working at writing original fiction in the forms of a novel and (as of now) nine short stories.
The third short story I wrote is being published in The Lorelei Signal in July.
I host a writers group of friends with like-minded novel aspirations on Fridays. One of them asked how I got published. So I wrote a list, I thought it was pretty good, so I figured I'd share it here. As I said, I am not an expert, and I don't want to think I am touting my word as gospel. I've only got one story in the pipeline, and I'm not John Scalzi or Margaret Atwood. I'm just sharing what I did to reach a goal, a goal a lot of writers want, and how I'm not stopping.
I head to Gambier, OH on Saturday for a week-long Writers Workshop hosted by The Kenyon Review. Out of that week-long workshop, six more stories will emerge, or at least the beginnings of them. I can't wait.
So! The list (some things apply to speculative fiction):
- Write as much as you can. It doesn’t have to be every day, but get on a schedule and stick to it. Even if you’re editing, think about how each scene could improve, and do it. Never tell yourself it’s too much work.
- Read a novel a month. Some novels might take longer, such as with me and 1984. But don’t just read for pleasure, dissect the book. Think about what is being done well, and what you would do differently. Learn from what you’re reading. You’ll learn different things from different writers and genres. As with all things, if you’re not enjoying the book, stop reading it and move on to the next one.
- Write a short story every two months. Write it from beginning to middle to end, and then edit it for publication. Send it off using Ralan.com as a guide for who might be taking something of that genre. Start big, and then go small. No need to short-sell yourself.
- Read books on writing between novels. On Writing by Stephen King. The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig. And Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King. Those are three that I found extremely helpful. I am sure there are others out there as well, I just haven’t read them yet.
- Re-read your book constantly. If you’ve taken time off to write a short story or read a book, re-read your entire book or story before you add more or go back to edit it. You want your voice and the voices of your characters to be consistent. This is incredibly important after you’ve read a book on writing. You have to see where you can apply what you’ve learned when it's time to edit.
- After receiving rejections from literary magazines, re-work your short stories, and send them out again. Use Ralan.com again, and see where they might fit.
- Join a professional organization, be it Society for Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or anything else. Get a subscription to LitReactor. Join a local writers group. Do anything that helps you get critique on your work, and go into it with your eyes wide open to take in what people say.
- Go to conferences to learn, not to see what you’re doing right. Take notes on what people say, and while you’re doing that, take notes on how you can apply it to what you’re doing. You may find you learn more the longer you’ve been at this, because you have more of a context.
- Read blogs by writers. Find writers you admire from the books you’ve been reading, Google them, and then favorite or subscribe to their blogs. Some of them write about writing, others just write about their life. Either way, you get a glimpse into how writers live their lives and their craft in the Holy Shit I’m Doing This world.
- Apply what you’ve learned to what you’re doing. Because no one knows everything, and smart people are the first to know that they have a lot to learn from life and experiences. Take everything that you’ve picked up from reading, writing, conferences, and living, and apply it to your novels, short stories, and anything else. It’s amazing how much your writing will improve.
- Still write short stories and send them out.
- Keep to that schedule. No one gets better at what they do by not doing it.
- Keep reading. It’s relaxing, it opens your brain, and it shows you how many different people have become successful with completely different styles. But when you write anything, use your voice to apply what you’ve learned from what you've been reading. Never copy, never mimic, always be yourself.
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
- But first, decide: Are you doing this because you can? Or because you want nothing more than to write? If it’s the former, you might want to ignore points 1-14 until you want the latter. Writing is hard work, being a writer is harder work. And if you're doing this out of love, you'll want one and it'll eventually lead to the other.
Again, I am not an expert. I'm only putting this up there to show the work I did which lead to my first publication. It may not work for you, it may not work for anyone. But point 15 is important. As with social work, writing is a labor of love. You don't go into it without really wanting it and having a burning need to tell stories. Every character created, every conflict dreamed, is borne from your brain onto the page because you willed it to be there. So don't scrimp. Make each thing the best you can.